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I hope this reflection will help by stimulating some thought about prayer. It was originally written some time before the page Prayer - What?, Why? and How? and provided some of the material for it, but there are one or two additional ideas here which I hope will provide 'food for thought' - and encourage you to pray!
Gerard Hughes, in his book "God of Surprises", says, "Training in prayer should be the main preoccupation and service given by the bishops and clergy to the adult members of the Church."
Thatís a pretty amazing statement. According to Gerard Hughes, it seems, we should hear more sermons and get more teaching about prayer and how to do it than, say, about understanding scripture, or living the Christian life, or understanding and applying Christian teaching.
Now, Iím not sure that I would go quite as far as to say that, but I certainly agree that prayer is very, very important. Iím also inclined to think that most churches give too little time to teaching their members about it. We need to learn how to do it Ė and to keep on learning so that we do it better. We also need to develop the practice of regular prayer or, at least, frequent prayer, not just as a church but as individuals.
But perhaps the most important thing to discover is what prayer is and why itís so important. The Bible doesnít give us a "definition" of prayer. What it does do is tell us about people who pray, and what people do when they pray is talk with God.
The "talking" doesnít have to be out loud. God certainly "heard" the prayer of Hannah, in 1 Samuel chapter 1 verses 10-11, and gave her the son she asked for (v 20) even though she made no sound (v 13). Basically, prayer is communicating with God Ė whether out loud, silently within us or just by an inner "sighing of the Spirit" (Romans chapter 8 v 26).
And the communication isn't only one way, Not only can we speak to God - God speaks to us as well. In the early chapters of the Bible in particular it is often God who initiates the "conversation" Ė for example, God calling Abram (Abraham), in Genesis chapter 12 v 1, or Moses, in Exodus chapter 3 v 4. But it is often when we approach God to pray or worship Ė perhaps during a time of silence Ė that God speaks to us. God spoke to Peter while he was at prayer (Acts chapter 10 verses 9-16), and to the church in Antioch while they were at worship (Acts chapter 13 v 2).
If we are Christians we need to communicate with God Ė and he with us. The essential thing about being a Christian is that we know God. Itís not just about believing certain things or obeying a set of rules Ė we have a relationship with Jesus. As Jesus said at one point, "You are my friends.." (John chapter 15 v 14).
If we have friends we need to keep in touch with them. If we donít, the friendship will not grow and may even die away altogether. Not only that, the whole point of a friendship is to have common experiences and share parts of our lives. What kind of friendship would it be if we never talked together or did things together, or kept in contact in some way?
In the same way we need to keep in touch with God. Prayer is how we do this. God needs to be like a "best friend", with whom we share our most intimate thoughts, our deepest needs, our heartís desires, our greatest fears. We can tell him we love him. We can tell him what a great guy he is. And we can say sorry when we make mistakes, and know he will forgive us. Prayer isnít just about asking God for things. There will even be times when we feel God has let us down, and we can complain to him about that too Ė because a true friendship relies on honesty and can survive a row or a time of pain.
And, of course, God wants to hear from us! After all, he loves us, and wants to hear from his friends. He may also have something to say to us!
So we need to pray. Prayer is, I believe, what makes a Christian Ė in the sense that it is the Christian's one essential practical activity Ė because it is how he or she develops his or her relationship with God. Itís not for nothing that Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians chapter 5 verse 17). Perhaps we need help with prayer, or training. But the most important thing is to do it Ė often.
© Copyright David Gray 2006
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© Copyright David Gray and PCC of Immanuel and St Andrew Streatham 2004-16. Photographs copyright David Gray 2002-16 except where otherwise stated.